AP photographer Ebrahim Noroozi used determination and empathy to gain access to the world of Afghanistan‘s hard-drug street addicts. The result is an unflinching but sensitive photo essay that takes readers inside the addicts’ bleak lives.

Other news organizations have covered Afghanistan’s drug culture, as did the AP in a powerful all-formats package last year, but Noroozi‘s images — raw, yet layered and nuanced — are at once intimate and riveting.

On eight occasions he spent time at locations in Kabul where the addicts gather — on a hillside and under a bridge. Each time, he would spend hours, watching and talking. He helped where he could, giving some food or water. Noroozi says that he wanted to see these people closely, “to face them and their problems, understand what they are suffering from.” The addicts gradually accepted his presence and he was able to follow the grueling flow of their daily lives, apparent in his images.

After a few visits to the hillside, a source called, saying the Taliban would be conducting a raid that night. Norozzi guessed correctly that they would target the bridge. There, the Taliban tried to stop him from photographing, but he convinced them to let him work, and they eventually allowed him access to their drug rehabilitation center. He wound up making striking images on multiple trips there too.

Complementing the haunting photos, Noroozi’s personal notes of his visits were so compelling that he and Cairo-based editor Lee Keath fashioned them into a first-person account, drawing readers directly into the experience.

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Drug addicts undergoing treatment eat in a dining hall of a drug treatment camp in Kabul Afghanistan, May 30, 2022.

AP Photo / Ebrahim Noroozi